THE ESSENTIALS of ‘NEGATIVE’ SPACES FOR ARTISTS, WRITERS, and DEEP THINKERS. Negative space, known as ‘white space’, is a misnomer, considering that white space is effectively one of the most ‘positive’ things we can see, taste, hear, feel, and smell.
FOR ARTISTS: Leaving aside the obvious daunting white space of a blank canvas, M.C. Escher demonstrates the powers of negative space in his engraving of birds turning into fish. He raised negative space to the ultimate art form where shapes gradually morph into each other to form something entirely new yet remain ultimately connected.
Voila the sublime mathematics of visual art.
The brain, well-versed in the art of visual perception, makes sense of abstract images by searching for recognizable shapes. Which is why it’s easier to copy a picture of person or an object by turning it upside down (as counterfeiters taking liberties duplicating a signature, fully understand). A bored brain, confronted with an optical illusion, is forced to work out what something is from the white shapes it is not – a mental workout that’s as good as a rest.
Confusing the brain, trained to identify, define, and record, is easy. Set up an irresistible challenge by giving it a puzzle. An image with no points of reference equals a subjective play of light and colour. Voila abstract paintings. Voila Escher and his subtle nuances of optical illusion. And don’t we just love visible puzzles.
We also relish the subtle delight of literary puzzles and their abundant negative spaces of secrets, clues, and mysteries.
FOR WRITERS: White space is never a blank space. For authors, white space is the critical breathing space between scene changes and to counterbalance the density of long passages of narrative thought. For screenwriters, white space on the page is the do or die of getting noticed. For poets, white space allows a single word to shine.
White space in non-fiction creates visible islands of thought. White space in a novel is essential to showcase a stream of rapid dialogue. White space is a place inside the mind set aside to listen to one’s muse. It’s driving a car, avoiding pot holes while working out plot holes. White space is holding a table for one in a crowded café, writing on real paper with the perfect pen.
There’s always white space between books one and two in a series and books two and three of a trilogy and the end of a series and its a prequel. And in traditional publishing there’s an inordinate amount of white space between sending a query letter to an agent editor and receiving a reply or enduring the endless white space of silence.
FOR DEEP THINKERS: White space is the private realms of imagination, reverie and daydreaming. It’s the restorative white space of meditation, focusing on the natural rhythms between breath and heartbeats. It’s the wisdom of giving in rather than giving up – the relief when the chaos of having to work things out naturally shifts to accepting what is. It’s surrendering to the rare sanctuary of intellectual retreat, which, for me, is rediscovering the timeless philosophy of Alan Watts – the coolest Zen master to have ever walked the planet. I cannot recommend his books and captivating recordings highly enough.
And for super-duper thinkers, there’s always contemplating the benign white void of eternity.
FOR TIMING: Whiteout time is patiently listening for one’s turn in a truly boring conversation or waiting for a polite exit from the aforementioned conversation. It’s time spent blocking the relentless think tanks of surrounding chaos filled with fake news, gossip, and negativity. It’s relishing a precious hour for yourself. It’s wholeheartedly embracing ‘down time’ devoted to the joy of being lazy. It’s the pursuit of sanity, zoning out from the media blitz, ignoring much ado about nothing and the overkill of too many somethings by honouring the state of mumblety-peg.
Spa time is ‘re-creation’ time surrendering to the therapies of massage and weightless floats, suspended in isolation tanks of white space. It’s yielding to the passages of time necessary to recuperate between intense periods of creativity. It’s entering the haven of Gregorian chant, blissing out on orchestral music, or at least, drifting in a swimming pool on an air mattress island, listening to music with no lyrics.
FOR THE SENSES: White space is the time a nose requires to reset between spritzes of perfume samples, the idyllic scent of books in the hush of a library. It’s the calming sounds of a purring cat, the hypnotic ticking of an old mantel clock, and the uncanny absence of sound after turning off a computer. It’s the sight of a familiar landscape changed by a blanket of new snow. It’s savouring the heady white space between sending and receiving a love letter.
In the culinary world, it’s the art of presentation – the single amuse bouche, the art of hors d’oeuvre, and the spaces between the colours and shapes of food on a white plate that accentuates the visual experience of fine dining. The white space of a palate cleanser between courses.
For insomniacs, it’s the white noise of a sound machine whirring an hypnotic invitation to unwind, followed by the white space of recuperative dreamless sleep. It’s the soothing track that blocks out anxious thoughts with spikes of distant thunderclaps on a flatline of rain.
In our time of quarantine, white spaces determine the rules of safe social distancing and the invisible fence-lines guarding personal spaces. It is found in the precious sanctuaries and white rooms of hospice where muffled white shoes patrol a hospital ward at night.
For those of us confined to home, it’s the communal space reclaimed in the ‘living’ room during a mandatory hiatus from watching too many movies.
White space is not the lack of, but the presence of something vital.
As for me, after three months in Covid lockdown, I feel an overwhelming need to create some white space away from social media. How about you.